Questions of the appropriate uses for property at the West Los Angeles VA facility continue unresolved as the new year dawns.
On December 28, a group of veterans staged their 41st consecutive Sunday rally to protest non-veteran-related uses of the VA property. While the protesting veterans object to several uses, including leases of land and buildings to schools, an entertainment group, and for rental car and bus storage, the focus of the current protests is an August 2007 Sharing Agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans Park Conservancy for the use of 16 acres as a park to “serve the needs of veterans and residents alike.”
The California Democratic Party Executive Board meeting did not consider a resolution proffered by the Party’s Veterans Caucus on November 15 that would have called for protection of the VA property from any uses by “a non-veterans organization or for any non-veterans-related purpose.” [Santa Monica Mirror, November 20-26, 2008] Since that time, the resolution has been approved by the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee and the San Fernando Valley Republican Club.
The resolution was discussed by the executive board of the Santa Monica Democratic Club on December 2; it did not consider an official position on behalf of the Club, believing such action was up to the membership, but individual board members, including Club president Julie Lopez Dad, signed the resolution. Dad plans a community-wide forum in February or March not only on the resolution, but on the broader subjects of the 16-acre park contract and the appropriate uses for the VA property.
The Brentwood Community Council, which supports the Sharing Agreement, wrote to Sen. Art Torres (Ret.), Chairman of the California Democratic Party, before the November 15 Executive Board meeting, objecting to the then-proposed resolution and stating that the Conservancy “has led the battle to improve, maintain and preserve this sacred Old Soldiers’ Home campus,” referring to the West L.A. VA property. Torres has signed on to the resolution.
Throughout December, tension has been escalating between the protesting veterans and the VA administration. The November 30 rally produced a confrontation of sorts between federal officers at the VA and protestors over hanging banners (“We Support Our Troops”; “Vietnam Veterans”) on the fence fronting the intersection of Wilshire and San Vicente Boulevards. This resulted in a flurry of emails, with Robert L. Rosebrock, Co-Director of We the Veterans and Director of The Veterans Revolution, writing to the Chief of Staff at the VA in Washington calling the officers “henchmen and gulags” and “Gestapo police.”
In the course of the email flurry, Ronald Norby, the new Director of the VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network which manages the West L.A. and other healthcare properties in Southern California and Las Vegas, wrote, “I can assure you that there is NO plan and there never has been to create a ‘public park’ on the grounds of the VA Los Angeles Healthcare System.”
The Mirror, however, has reviewed the August 2007 Sharing Agreement, and it provides not only as quoted above, but also: “Effective immediately, Veterans Park Conservancy shall be entitled to develop the Shared Property [the 16 acres] for the purposes of creating a park,” and elsewhere: “for benefit of veterans and the general public.”
The West L.A. VA Office of Congressional and Public Affairs had not returned phone calls for comment on this article at press time.